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Small Business Marketing: Managing Your Voice Brand

By: Chris Gatch

Chris Gatch is Chief Technology Officer of Cbeyond, a leading provider of voice and data packages to more than 48,000 small businesses throughout the United States. Recently named sixth on the Forbes Fast Tech list of the fastest-growing technology companies in America, Cbeyond offers more than 30 productivity-enhancing applications including local and long-distance voice, broadband Internet, mobile, BlackBerry®, broadband laptop access, voicemail, email, web hosting, fax-to-email, data backup, file-sharing and virtual private networking. Cbeyond manages these services over a private, 100-percent Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) facilities-based network. To learn more about Cbeyond and its portfolio of small business communications and IT services, visit www.cbeyond.net/smb.


A company projects its brand in many ways: its logo, Web site, advertising, office and even employee attire. Yet with such an emphasis on developing an appropriate small business marketing strategy, it is surprising that one of the most active customer touch points is often ignored.

The phone call still reigns as the primary mode of interaction between small businesses and their customers. If there is a problem, most entrepreneurs will pick up the phone to quickly fix the problem rather than use a channel, like e-mail, that requires them to wait for a response. As a result, your company's voice brand is an important aspect of maintaining the image you want to convey.

Everyone has experienced the call. You pick up the phone to call a business and immediately wish you hadn't. Whether being met with an inept staff member, a shockingly foul-mouthed representative or someone who provided grossly inaccurate information, odds are you've experienced an ignored voice brand.

What Is a Voice Brand?

Simply put, your company's voice brand is the image it provides through the spoken word. Marcus Graham, author of Voice Branding in America, provides a more in-depth account of establishing an optimal small business marketing message:

"It's the unique combination of voice talent, words, call flow and spirit that greets and guides callers. The voice brand is largely experienced over the telephone today, but that's changing. With the telephone, computer and television morphing into similar multi-function devices due to digital convergence, a company's voice brand is being heard on Web sites, multimedia CD ROMs, kiosks, cards, point of purchase devices and who knows what else."

Crafting Your Company's Voice Brand

With the evolution of how businesses engage their customers and prospects, we have also seen an increase in the number of small business marketing channels companies need to manage. Fifty years ago, the letter may have been the most common and most cost-effective form of direct communication with customers, whereas today the Web site is the default source for general company information. Now more than ever, businesses need to ensure they are using the same voice brand across all channels.

The first step is to determine the small business marketing message you wish to convey. To effectively do so, a company needs to examine not only its current brand, but the brands of its customers and prospective customers.

When examining these brands, review a number of attributes: are your company and your customers extremely professional or casual, highly educated or plainspoken, in a "white-collar" or "blue-collar" industry? Once you've identified some of these attributes, you can better identify the small business marketing message that will achieve success.

Inventory all of your voice communications touch points with an understanding of the brand your company will create. A touch point consists of any channel through which a customer could interact with your company, such as your receptionist, interactive voice response (IVR) system, tech support line, advertising response line, voicemail and online voice assets. Consider what you want your customer to experience and accomplish at each of these touch points. With a plan in place, you can design or redesign your small business marketing messaging and call flows to create a positive customer interaction.

For example, the medical field frequently uses call forwarding and redirecting services so patients can speak with someone 24/7. If handled correctly, the system may ask if it's an emergency, give you the option to immediately speak with a healthcare expert or provide information about where to receive immediate care. During business hours, a person would provide this information, but during non-business hours, physicians still need a professional solution that provides the necessary information.

Choose a Persona

How you speak with your customers is just as important as what you say. Oftentimes, automated phone systems sound mechanical, distant and even unprofessional. Think of your voice persona the same way you think of your staff when they are speaking to your customers.

Is your company represented by a man or woman, someone young or old? Do they have an accent? What is their attitude? A consistent persona, that reflects your company's personality and culture, will help establish the voice brand your customers will associate with your business.

Regardless of the persona your company takes, consider hiring professional voice talent to record the messages your customers will encounter. There are many companies that work exclusively with small businesses to create a voice brand; consider using one to help you.

Bring Your Small Business Marketing Message Together

Executing your vision for a voice brand will take planning and consideration of available tools. Most small business phone or PBX systems include basic IVR functionality that lets you customize voice prompts. Take advantage of this capability to ensure your small business marketing message is used throughout all automated responses your customer can have with your phone system.

For example, a Virtual Receptionist application is a great tool to effectively convey your voice brand. Virtual Receptionist offers easy and powerful management of inbound calling for your business and uses text-to-voice functionality that allows companies to create a customized script to answer and direct calls. With an intuitive interface, small businesses can create and update their phone menus on the fly to change how callers interact with the system during and after business hours.

Your small business marketing strategies send a message every time your phone rings; your Web site is hit and your employees speak. It is important that all these messages point to a consistent small business marketing message that embodies your organization. Taking the time to create the brand, using it across all channels and leveraging readily available voice solutions will ensure your small business isn't creating an experience your customer would rather forget.


© Copyright 2009, Chris Gatch

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.

 

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